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Friday, April 15, 2022

Siege Of Treboulain Release Q&A with Jed Herne (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

 


Order Siege Of Treboulain over HERE


Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Jed, how have you been?

JH: Thanks for having me back! I’ve been excellent :)

Q] You have been busy man writing a different kind of project and coordinating the Wizards, Warriors & Words pod/videocast. How did you manage to do both?

JH: I’ve deeply enjoyed both the podcast and Siege of Treboulain (an interactive epic fantasy game), so it hasn’t felt like work. These are my hobbies, and spending time on either of them generally lifts me up, rather than making me feel busy or stressed.

For those who aren’t familiar, Wizards, Warriors, & Words is a fantasy writing advice podcast, which I co-host with Rob J. Hayes, Michael R.Fletcher, and Dyrk Ashton. Past guests have included Will Wight, Anthony Ryan, John Gwynne, and Adrian Tchaikovsky. We’ve published over 80 episodes so far, and new episodes come out every Monday. 

We batch record 2-3 podcast episodes every few weeks, so it doesn’t take up a whole lot of time. Plus, the podcast motivates me – it’s energizing talking with authors who’ve done what I want to do.

It also helps that podcasting uses a different area of my brain compared to writing.

Best of all, the podcast has now reached a stage where we get thousands of listens every week, and we have listeners sending in their questions and comments for almost every episode! That helps – to know that we’re making a show that gives people a good start to their week, and hopefully improves their writing, too.

 

Q] Please tell us about this new writing project, Siege of Treboulain. How did it all come together?

JH: Before I started writing, my first creative passion was designing video games. In school, I’d program games using GameMaker studio, and then I’d play them during lunch time with my friends. We even had a game designing class at my school!

As I got older, I shifted that passion into writing. Writing was more fun – but I remembered those game designing days with fondness.

Back in 2016, I stumbled across Choice of Games. They were doing something interesting: creating these in-depth choose-your-path style text games. Kind of like the old choose-your-own-adventure novels, but with way more detail (i.e., 8 hours to play instead of only 30 minutes to read). They also had similarities to old-school text adventures like Zork, but they felt closer to a novel-style experience than Zork did.

At the time, I didn’t think I was a good enough writer to pitch a project to them. So, I waited for a few years and mostly forgot they existed.

Then, at the start of 2020, I found them again. I was still nervous about pitching them a story. At the time, I’d only published one novella (Fires of the Dead) and one novel (Across the Broken Stars). I wasn’t thinking that I was this amazingly successful writer, by any stretch of the imagination.

I played a few of their games, trying to decide if I felt ready. And I just fell in love with the first two stories I played (The Magician’s Workshop by Kate Heartfield, and Sword of the Slayer by S. Andrew Swann).

At that point, I decided to go for it. Whenever I come across something that I enjoy as a consumer (i.e., books, games, podcasts, videos, board games, murder mysteries), I almost always develop the burning desire to make my own version of it.  

I applied to write for Choice of Games, and after a lot of nervous waiting, they said yes! From there, it took about 6 months as I developed pitches and outlines before they gave me the green light to start writing.

After so many years, it’s been incredible to merge my passion for writing with game design into one project. High school Jed would be very proud.


Q] Let’s talk about Siege of Treboulain, what lead to its inception?

JH: I originally pitched 4 ideas to Choice of Games, and Siege of Treboulain was one of these. Ironically, it was probably the pitch that I worked the least on – but in hindsight, my editor made the right choice to pick it. Out of the 4 concepts, it’s definitely the strongest.

In Siege of Treboulain, you play as the young ruler of a magical city, trying to prove yourself worthy of the throne.  When a ruthless army besieges Treboulain, you must martial your troops, rally your people, and defend your city.

Will you take to the walls yourself, using your magic and skill with a sword to inspire your soldiers? Or will you command the defense from a distance, using your sharp tactical mind? Should you fill the moat with traps, train elite magicians, or recruit mercenaries for a surprise attack? With rival politicians attempting to usurp you, what will you sacrifice to maintain order?

Siege of Treboulain is an interactive novel. It’s a text adventure, without graphics or sound effects, where your choices shape the story. Basically, you get the interactivity of video games mixed with the capacity of a novel to make you imagine scenes that are far cooler than any movie could achieve. If you’ve ever wanted to step inside an epic fantasy story, this will be right up your alley. 

Writing an interactive novel is fundamentally different from a regular novel. You have to keep all the storytelling quality of a novel – the complex characters who grow and change, the twists and the suspense, a cool magic system, and some kind of interesting ideas to make the reader grapple with. But because it’s a game, you have to consider other things.

The biggest consideration is the nature of choice. The best games force players to make hard choices with no obvious right answer.

That’s why the idea of a siege story interested me. You can’t get much harder choices than the ones you’ll face as the ruler of a city under attack. And you’ll come out of the game having learned a lot about the kind of person you are under immense pressure.

Truly invaluable self-knowledge in case you’re ever in charge of a magical city! 

 

Q] How different was writing an interactive novel that is about 280k words, versus writing your fantasy stories which are on the shorter side?

JH: The effort I put into Siege of Treboulain would have produced about four 100k-word novels, because the coding and editing made it slower to write compared to regular prose.

So that’s probably the biggest difference!

But I think it’s paid off, because that length has led to an immersive game with tons of replayability.

I’ve played through it a few times, and even I’ve been surprised by some scenes and paths. Because of the sheer number of words, and the way that different scenes can combine together (because of the interactive nature), there’s sections that I hardly remember writing!

Q] What’s a cool feature about this game that’s perhaps not mentioned in its blurb or release?

JH: I’m stoked with the magic system, but it’s hard to describe it in a blurb – so that’s probably the main one. Essentially, you are given the gift of arborturgy – the ability to control plants with your mind. Depending on how you play, it can lead to cool set pieces in the game; swinging from building to building by using vines, enchanting grass to snare your enemies, and even using plant-tendrils to catch arrows mid-air.

I also think the backstory adds a lot to the game. Early on, you choose one of three backgrounds: magician, warrior, or scholar. Each choice creates an almost entirely different playing experience.

Lastly, if you enjoy epic fantasy for the world building and the immersion, then you’ll love the city of Treboulain. Before writing, I mapped out every street in the city, and there’s a ton of depth, ancient lore, and hidden mysteries all wrapped up in the place. You’d need to play the game a few times before you can fully explore even a fraction of the city.

And it’s not just a static backdrop – the city will shape itself to your decisions. Depending on your actions, it might look totally different by the game’s end.

 

Q] What’s next for you Jed? What story are you going to write next/are writing currently?

JH: I’m currently outlining Kingdom of Dragons, an epic fantasy novel about two nations on the brink of war, and the young dragon riders who could avert the disaster – or choose to break that fragile peace. My outline is more or less done, and I should start writing soon. (By the time this article goes up, I’m fairly certain that I’ll have started writing). If you want to stay updated with my progress, you can join my newsletter, which goes out twice a month.

After two years of writing interactive fiction, it’s going to be strange to get back into writing a regular novel! Still, I’m eager to return to my home turf.

 

Q] I am a huge fan of the WW&W podcast and kudos to you for corralling Mike, Dyrk and Rob and make it such a fun one. How are things going on that front? What exciting things are up on the WW&W horizon?

JH: Thanks! It feels like the podcast has hit a real inflection point in the last month. We’re getting more listener interaction, which is amazing. Today, for example, we just had a first-time author on the show to ask us about publishing costs. And a few weeks ago, several listeners sent in their covers and blurbs for us to critic.

I love listener interaction. It keeps things fresh for us and makes the show more relatable for everyone else. My vision is to keep expanding that by growing the show and making it even easier for listeners to be part of the conversation. I don’t just want a podcast where it’s four authors talking. I want a podcast where thousands of readers and writers are all participating in the same conversation and growing an awesome community together.

That’s why I’m so happy to have launched an official website for the show. It’s got links to all our books, past episodes, and – this is my favorite feature – a link for people to send voice messages! We’ve already had one listener send in a message, which we played on a recent episode. It’s so cool to have this, and I imagine we’ll be playing more over the coming months.

We’re also adding bonus episodes to our patreon. Currently, patrons get access to 1 bonus episode that you can’t find anywhere else, and we’d like to increase that number as we move forward. The dream scenario would be to release a bonus patreon episode every week, in addition to our regular shows. We might be a while away from that at the moment, though.

 


Q] Thank you for your time and your consideration Jed. All the very best for the release and do you have any parting comments for our readers?

JH: Siege of Treboulain is out right now. You can play the first few chapters for free here. (And that link will also let you buy the full game if you enjoy the sample.)   

Also, during launch week (April 14-20th), Choice of Games are offering the game at a special launch discount for a limited time.

Thanks again for having me, Mihir! 


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